Al-Qaeda-linked "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) fighters recently executed a mentally disabled Syrian fuel vendor in Saraqeb, Idlib province, saddening local residents and sparking criticism of the group's misappropriation of Islamic sharia as a pretext for their crimes.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the killing in a statement and photo of the victim posted to its website Monday (December 9th).
According to the statement, ISIL members shot mentally disabled Ibrahim Qassoum in the head after detaining him for two days and accusing him of blasphemy.
The incident began when ISIL members bought fuel from Qassoum they claimed had been watered down.
When they asked him why the fuel was impure, he replied, "How would I know? What am I? The lord of fuel?"
Qassoum's body was found in the city on Sunday, bearing the marks of a gunshot wound to the head, the Observatory said.
In a similar incident, the ISIL executed 15-year-old coffee vendor Mohammed al-Qatta in front of his family members in Aleppo's Shaar neighbourhood in June after accusing him of blasphemy.
"All the people of Saraqeb know very well who Ibrahim Qassoum is, how he behaves and the words he uses. He was just an ordinary person, kind, very excitable and [prone to] saying things impulsively, spontaneously and unknowingly, and he had been like that since childhood," said Mohammad al-Khaled, a member of Saraqeb's local co-ordination committee.
"Although he was not a religious person, he participated in group prayers, particularly on feasts and occasions, and often helped those who wanted to purchase fuel from him by charging less than the full going price, especially since the cold weather increases public demand for fuel for heating," al-Khaled said.
When news of Qassoum's arrest spread, some activists and elders sought to negotiate with ISIL elements for his release, al-Khaled said, but no one was able to meet with them to explain the victim's mental condition.
"It was not the first time that ISIL elements had confronted Ibrahim and other fuel vendors, for they aimed to control this trade and confine it exclusively to their comrades and those who support their actions," he said.
"The word 'lord' is uttered casually and spontaneously by people in the region and rarely means God, for it has several meanings depending on the context, such as boss or superior," he said.
"An insult to the divine self is anything said by a person with an intent to derogate or disparage God almighty or to insult God directly," said Mohieddine al-Kayali, a graduate of Al-Azhar University's faculty of sharia and law who taught religious studies at public schools in Syria.
However, "the person who was killed was known to be overly kind and half-witted, bordering on being demented, and therefore he was not punishable nor was he accountable," he said.
The issue also has to do with who carried out the punishment, al-Kayali said: "ISIL has no religious mandate to administer these matters, which are in the purview of only senior Muslim scholars and specialised judges who are well versed in the rulings of sharia and the law."
"But then it is not uncommon for these groups to act in this manner," he added. "For they are accustomed to accusing anyone they want of being an infidel, in accordance with the swift fatwas they issue to serve their own ends, of which religion is often entirely innocent."
Al-Qaeda relies on methods of intimidation which include carrying out executions in order to impose its presence and terrorise dissenting voices, said al-Qaeda affairs specialist Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Ahmed, who is retired from the Egyptian army.
"Al-Qaeda is keen on imposing its presence with fire and terrorism in Saraqeb and throughout Idlib," he told Al-Shorfa. "This stems from the region's strategic location in the middle of the areas liberated from the control of the Syrian regime; a natural corridor for those who wish to move between those areas."
The execution was not the first in this region, Ahmed said. Reports have surfaced that a person accused of drinking alcohol was killed; and earlier this month ISIL fighters killed Iraqi cameraman Yasser Faysal al-Jumaily near the Saraqeb border.
Al-Qaeda used the same modus operandi in most Iraqi cities where it operated, executing many civilians, he said.